An accomplished researcher who straddles the line between engineering and medicine has been appointed the new dean of the NIU College of Engineering and Engineering Technology.
The NIU Board of Trustees appointed Donald Peterson, former dean of the College of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics at Texas A&M University-Texarkana, to the role May 18 after a nationwide search. He will begin work July 1.
Peterson is the third dean in the college’s history, and Executive Vice President and Provost Lisa Freeman said the university is fortunate to have attracted such a high-caliber candidate.
“Dr. Peterson is an accomplished scientist-administrator with demonstrated success transcending traditional disciplinary boundaries to build strong academic and research programs in areas of interest to NIU, including biomedical engineering,” Freeman said.
Peterson said he was attracted to NIU’s reputation for student-centered education and its focus on career readiness. He was impressed by the university’s simultaneous dedication to both teaching and research.
“That NIU wants to bring in research but pay close attention to its teaching mission really ups its game in the higher education realm,” Peterson said. “Students are getting unparalleled exposure to new research and getting a better education. There’s a lot of exciting potential there.”
Prior to his appointment at Texas A&M, Peterson was the head of biomedical engineering at the University of Connecticut, holding faculty positions in both the university’s engineering and medical schools. He is a fellow of the American Institute of Medical and Biological Engineering and a member of the Engineering Technology Council of the American Society of Engineering Education.
Peterson holds bachelor’s degrees in aerospace engineering and biomechanical engineering from Worcester Polytechnic Institute, a master’s degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Connecticut and a Ph.D. in biomedical engineering from the University of Connecticut.
At Texas A&M, Peterson developed several new degree programs, something he said is a possibility at NIU. For example, biomedical engineering, which NIU offers as an emphasis, is an in-demand field with few degree programs in the Midwest, he said. Establishing a doctoral degree program in the College of Engineering and Engineering Technology could be an important step in advancing the college’s research interests, he added.
“There are a lot of cutting-edge things that can happen with new engineering programs right now,” he said. “There’s exciting potential there.”
Peterson has more than 21 years experience in engineering and medical research on such topics as injury responses, hearing protection and mitigating musculoskeletal and neuromuscular diseases. His research has resulted in the development of such devices as prostheses, surgical instruments, NASA spacesuits, hand tools and sports equipment and has brought in millions in grant funding to his institutions.
While lauding NIU’s academic and research potential, Peterson said what is most exciting is the chance to work with NIU students.
“I’ve visited a lot of places, and NIU students were the most impressive,” he said. “They’re passionate, they’re engaged and I’m excited to work with them.”